Dear White People has hit theatres after months (for some, years) of anticipation, and we think it’s a film that anyone and everyone should go see. The satirical comedy about “being a black face in a white place” isn’t a film created solely for a Black audience – that’s part of this film’s brilliance and really a testament to it’s writer, Justin Simien. Plenty of films, books, and television shows throw around that party line, but ask any studio or network executive, or anybody in the marketing department and they will tell you that’s just not true.
Smart and funny, creativity and writing n this level surpasses color lines though and Dear White People is the perfect film to prove it and this is the perfect time to do so.
Writer, producer Angel Lopez spoke with us about his experience producing Dear White People and why, before updating your Facebook status or sending another Tweet, getting to the theatre is crucial.
The ViP: WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE IN THE PROJECT AND HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED?
AL: My role was producer. There was a little crew of us producers, but I was one of the first producers involved along with Lena [Waithe], Ann [Le] and Justin [Simien]. I’ve known Justin for maybe eight years now…we started in a writers group together because we both wanted to be writers. And he brought up this project…the first version of Dear White People. So, I was there with him as he was crafting that first draft and then years later when he decided it was time to make the movie. He approached us all and said, ‘Hey, will you help me?’ He had a pretty strong vision, he just knew he couldn’t do it alone. So that’s how I came aboard. I’ve been with the project officially since 2011.
The ViP: Wow, so I don’t know that it gets anymore beginning than that. You were there when it wasn’t even called Dear White People.
AL: Yeah, yeah. I was there before Sam White was really Sam White.
The ViP: That makes this next question probably even more significant. What does it mean to have Dear White People go from that beginning to seeing it exactly where it is right now?
AL: Personally, it’s everything. I just get chills thinking about it. But you know, on a sort of larger level, it kind of goes back to my first response. I feel like it means for some people, the door has opened wider. Justin always responds to this question so well. I feel like I was just listening to an interview with him where he said…you just kind of have to take it into your own hands and not take ‘no’ for an answer.
I think a lot of times, when it came to creative ideas and projects that I wanted to pursue, I just sort of would tell myself no before I even gave them a chance to come into existence. So being involved with this project really, through Justin’s motivation…I’ve learned to not take no for an answer. It’s never too late to believe in yourself and believe that something you have is meaningful and will be meaningful to others. But I guess that—more so, it’s exciting to see all of these young talents who are really getting a chance to shine have a vehicle to express themselves and have more of the world be exposed. They’re just so brilliant. They all are.
The ViP: That is pretty significant. And you’re not the only person to say something on that level. But that is very, very significant, I think, about the entire project.
AL: Yeah. I really want to take it back to believing in yourself [and] believing in your group. We were able to keep a lot of the group intact and utilize them in this movie. To be able to do that proves that everyone’s little pocket can explode if you just work and try. You have the story to tell.
AL: Um, no. In my mind, I did not. In my heart, though, I did. (laughs) I always knew we were going to make the movie. I felt we were going to be able to make it for about as big as we did. I was a development executive at a big production company for many years…I understood how it worked. So, I knew going in, we’re not going to get ten million dollars to make this movie. We’re going to have a bit of an uphill climb with it. But just from being on set I always felt free to say, ‘Well, when we’re at Sundance…’ or ‘We’re going to be at Sundance.’ Once that happened and we saw some of the reaction and the audience response, I said, ‘All right, this is really going to get out there. It’s going to get purchased. We’re going to get into theatres.’
I always had a dream. The Arclight Hollywood is my theatre in LA where I go see movies. It was my dream to be involved in a movie that played there.
The ViP: Wow.
AL: And now we open there tomorrow. I wouldn’t say that I thought that’s exactly what was going to happen. But again, in my heart, I was sort of urging all of these things into existence. (laughs)
The ViP: Kind of speaking them into existence.
AL: Yeah and just trying to internally believe them. I wanted that for this so badly and I knew it was deserving. I didn’t entirely know [we would be here], but I had a feeling and I’m really grateful that feeling proved to be true. (laughs) You know, I’ve still got a couple more secret feelings that I’m hoping will manifest themselves. So we’ll see.
The ViP: What’s been one of the biggest obstacles in getting the movie from the concept trailer phase to where it is now, geared for national release?
AL: I guess the biggest obstacle would probably be getting other people on this van—[to prove] that there were people out there who wanted to see this movie. There were movie-goers out there who wanted to see it. You know.
The ViP: Sort of proving there was an audience.
AL: Yeah. Exactly. And I think that comes more from the industry standpoint. But proving to the industry that—I think just finding someone who believed enough to say all right, all these people responding on Twitter and liking the Facebook page and liking the concept trailer—maybe that does translate to real actual human beings who will go and see the film. I mean, we still have to prove that point, I think, but I’m amazed by—just on social media—how quickly people respond. It’s bigger than a movie, even now. That hashtag, #DearWhitePeople. It’s not just about us anymore.
The ViP: I realized that, but hadn’t even fully thought about that yet.
AL: I’m obsessed with Twitter. I click that magnifying glass and put in ‘Dear White People’ and just read what people are posting. Some guy made a Vine of himself doing his own Dear White People. They were very funny. But this inspired this guy to say what’s on his mind. It has nothing to do with us.
The ViP: WHAT’S BEEN YOUR GENERAL RESPONSE TO CRITICS & CRITICISM?
AL: Well on Twitter I’m not dealing with it. I’ve had to literally sit on my hands because I know I shouldn’t do it. (laughs) Honestly, for me, [it seems] 95% percent of the people who criticize the movie online have not seen the movie. So I’m like GO. SEE. THE. MOVIE. Then, if you have some criticisms I’m down to hear them, and I’m interested in gauging that.
This movie isn’t going to be for everybody. Some people aren’t going to see themselves in it or some people are going to bump up against something early on and then shut down to it and just ride that. Or what have you. For the most part I’m thinking please go see it and then criticize it. Or prove yourself wrong. Then say, ‘Oh, I thought this was one thing and it’s not.’ Even the title, people are saying, ‘Oh why would they title it that.’ Well, it’s actually a plot point in the movie. (laughs) Yes, it definitely is meant to provoke, but it really means something to the story. That’s how most of these titles come about. (laughs) So, see it first.
The ViP: There is a connection there, we promise.
The ViP: WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR DEAR WHITE PEOPLE?
AL: I would hope for the people behind it—for the people involved, for Justin, for everyone else—I hope that Dear White People just continues to open doors for everyone, continues to allow them to have the creatively free careers that I think they’re all supposed to have and at the level that I think they’re all supposed to be at. I think the door is open for conversation, you know, when it comes to race and identity and culture. I think that door has been opened and I think we have been a part of it–at least creating a new dialogue around it. I hope that people watch this movie in classrooms, discuss the issues and use it as a tool to sort of broaden their understanding of race and identity in America and what that means to themselves as people. That’s what I’d like to see ideally.
The ViP: I’ve said this before, but this is one of those films that’s not just for Black people and it’s not just for white people. You know, so many films, especially Black films or films that are done by Black directors, writers—they come out and the audience is mostly Black people and we’re not the ones that need to see this. I could say that everybody needs to see this because it’s a good teaching lesson. It’s a good moment. So I think it’s very interesting that you say that about it being taught in classrooms. I can see that for it.
AL: Yeah, exactly. And I’m not a Black man. I am not a Black woman. I’m not Black by any means. I wanted to be involved in this project obviously because I love Justin and I believe in him as a filmmaker, but it’s for exactly the reasons you say. When I was seeing the script come together and understanding—hearing more from Justin what it was about, I said, ‘Yes. I get this.’ I’m a Lionel. Sometimes I’m a Coco. It doesn’t matter that I’m Puerto Rican. I get it, too. People need to see this movie. Everyone should be exposed to this.
The ViP: WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
AL: Well, we just wrapped production on a short [film] that I’m producing with another awesome filmmaker named Kevin Hamedani. He’s a Persian-American filmmaker. Another story we don’t really see, and I want it to be told. So, I’m wrapping that up in hopes of hitting the festival circuit with that early next year. And…I’ve written my own short film that I’m going to direct in December.
The ViP: Nice!
AL: Yeah. Which I’m very, very excited about. And Julia Lebedev, who [co-]produced Dear White People, is producing [the film]. And so many other kids will be involved, too. Justin will be involved with that. Lena’s been helping me develop the script. It’s definitely in the family. I hope to continue working with the Dear White People folks. So, definitely some exciting news in that realm coming soon, which I’m very stoked about.
The ViP: GIVE ONE REASON PEOPLE NEED TO GO SEE DEAR WHITE PEOPLE.
Angel Lopez: The time is now. I just feel like the time is now for so many aspects of the movie. The time is now for the kind of conversation that I think the movie is trying to inspire. I think the time is now for so many of the creators involved, especially Justin Simien. The time is now for a voice like his and a vision like his and an inspiration like him for other young—and even not so young—filmmakers who are out there and have a unique voice and a story to tell. But need to know that there’s a way to do it that isn’t the way everyone else has done it. I think Justin has just done a great job of motivating people to step up and be inspired. I just think the time is now for people to seize that moment.
Let’s review this, shall we? An independent film created for a diverse audience, that beat the odds to make it to the big screen is already considered an educational tool, and fosters a cultural movement of conversations and storytelling, growing beyond its hashtag #DearWhitePeople. Check and mate.
That’s it. You officially have no reason not to go see this film. Go to dearwhitepeople.com/tickets today to find out where to see it in your area.
Interview conducted by KAMMs